ST. LOUIS • A city police officer stationed at City Hall when protesters showed up Friday to protest police brutality drew the attention of demonstrators because the officer wore a “Wilson” name tag on his sleeve in a show of solidarity with former Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson.
Now that officer also has his department’s attention.
In an interview Friday, Chief Sam Dotson said the “officer clearly violated our policies and will be disciplined.”
“I couldn’t be more disappointed,” Dotson said. “We spend a lot of time working on professionalism and building a bridge in the community.”
The department’s policy on uniforms allows only department-approved pins, insignia and awards, a spokeswoman said. Officials did not name the officer, but another name tag, on the breast of his vest, read “Coats.”
Dotson said police officers have the same First Amendment rights as others when they are off duty, but that this “clearly violated our rules.” He said he thinks the officer will get “some days off for his actions.”
Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers’ Association, said the officer at issue was transferred Friday from District 3 to District 6, which Roorda said has the highest crime in the city.
“For months, the U.S. Department of Justice has been calling violent protests where officers were shot at and had Molotov cocktails thrown at them ‘constitutionally protected exercises of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression,’” Roorda said.
“Now a police officer does nothing more than wear another officer’s name on his sleeve, an officer who has been exonerated of any wrongdoing, and is being told that his passive statement is constitutionally prohibited free speech. There is something wrong with this picture.”
Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown and a grand jury decision not to indict Wilson, who said he acted in self-defense, have led to daily protests in the St. Louis area against aggressive policing and racial profiling.
About 100 protesters who had gathered Friday morning at Kiener Plaza marched to City Hall in a Christmas-themed demonstration. They quickly noticed the officer with the “Wilson” name tag.
It “shows whose side he’s on,” protester Marcellus Butler said Friday. “I clench my fist. I want to attack, like they want to attack us. I know damn well they know Darren Wilson wasn’t attacking in self-defense. Darren Wilson had an option to Mace him. But he got to shoot.”
Protesters later marched to the federal courthouse, where they faced off with another line of police in riot gear. The demonstration involved more taunts from protesters, met with silence from police. A metal barricade blocked the entrance.
The theme, Carnival of Justice, was to deepen awareness of the racial disparities that exist in policing.
“We know if Santa were black or brown, we know he’d be shot and killed for breaking and entering,” said Elizabeth Vega, one of the protest organizers.
Courtesy of STL Today